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On the Dec. 1, 2011, edition of NBC’s Today, Ann Curry sat down with Vice President Joe Biden while on a trip to Baghdad.
Curry asked Biden, "How secure can Iraq really be when you as a vice president still must arrive under the cloak of darkness, under heavy security?"
Biden responded that there are "still concerns here in Iraq, but if you take a look at it, Ann, violence is down to an all-time low, to all the way back to 2002. We're in a situation where it's been that way for the last year and a half, but there's still the one-off jobs that can occur."
Indeed, during Biden’s trip, there were two separate attacks in northeast Iraq, killing 20 people and wounding 32, according to the Associated Press.
A reader asked us to check whether violence is in fact "down to an all-time low" since the start of the war.
We turned to two sources: the "Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq," a project of the Brookings Institution that assembles a wide array of data about Iraq, and icasualties.org, an independent accounting of casualty statistics in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We found that by most metrics, Biden is correct. But there are a few that show violence has increased -- though not dramatically -- from post-2002 lows.
First, we’ll list the data that supports Biden’s claim.
• U.S. troop fatalities. The number of U.S. troop fatalities in 2011 -- 53 -- is on pace to roughly match, or perhaps slightly fall short of, its level from 2010, which was 60. That was easily the lowest level since the war began, compared with the peak of 961 in 2007. There have been no troops killed by IEDs for three months running; none killed by mortars, rockets or rocket-propelled grenades for four months running; and none killed by car bombs since April 2009.
• U.S. troops wounded in action. Citing Defense Department statistics, the Brookings study shows a steady decline in the number of U.S. troops wounded in action. Through the end of August 2011, there were 213 U.S. troops wounded, which is on a pace to fall short of the total for 2010, which was 389. That compares with a peak of 8,005 in 2004.
• Estimated number of Iraqi civilian fatalities. The chart in the report shows this number at less than 250 per month for roughly the past year. The number peaked at about 3,700 per month in late 2006, and was 1,000 a month as recently as mid 2008.
• Non-Iraqi civilians killed. This number -- which includes civilian contractors -- has been in the low single digits per month since mid 2008, after peaking at 31 in a single month in mid 2004.
• Foreign nationals kidnapped in Iraq. There was one kidnapping in 2008, none in 2009, and one in 2010. This number peaked at 149 in 2004.
• Journalists killed in Iraq. The total so far in 2011 is five, the same as the number for 2010. This number peaked with 32 in 2006 and 2007.
Here are three areas for which today’s numbers are not the lowest since 2002.
• Iraqi military and police killed. In June, July and August 2011, at least 50 Iraqi military and police were killed each month, which had been below 50 for most months since fall 2008.
• Multiple-fatality bombings. This number has jumped around more than most. From the start of 2008 to the spring of 2011, the number has ranged from eight to 26 per month, with no discernible pattern.
• Insurgent attacks in Baghdad. While the current level is far below its peak in mid 2007, the trendline has been edging slowly but consistently upward since early 2009.
The researcher who put together the Brookings report told PolitiFact that Biden generally has the evidence on his side.
"There’s little doubt that violence – while considerable still – has been lower over the past year or two" despite the exit of many American troops, said Ian Livingston, who works with fellow Brookings scholar Michael O’Hanlon on the report. Still, while current levels are "many, many-fold lower than the peak," Livingston said, bombings "are still pretty much a daily occurrence."
Not every statistic supports Biden’s statement that in Iraq, "violence is down to an all-time low" since the start of the war. But most of the statistics do. We rate his statement Mostly True.
Joe Biden, interview on NBC’s Today show, Dec. 1, 2011 (transcript via CQ, subscribers only)
Brookings Institution, "Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq," Oct. 28, 2011
icasualties.org, statistics on Operation Iraqi Freedom, accessed Dec. 2, 2011
Associated Press, "VP Biden, Iraqi leaders praise troops' sacrifices," Dec. 2, 2011
E-mail interview with Ian Livingston, senior research assistant at the Brookings Institution, Dec. 2, 2011
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